Family vacations, pool memberships, and corn de-tasseling; these have been the experiences of traditional Midwestern summers. For centuries young American children have attended school during the winter months, during farming off seasons when their families could afford to be without them. Families have grown accustomed to a traditional school calendar that provides time for bonding throughout the year. Students have grown accustomed to an eight week break during the summer months where they are allowed to refresh their minds before returning for a new school year. Unfortunately, these traditional experiences and practices are now in jeopardy. In today’s race to improve student achievement, traditional school calendars have become a point of contention. Today more and more school districts and parents alike have begun to debate the pros and cons of an alternative school calendar.
According to writer Vanessa St Gerard from The Education Digest, a traditional school year is defined as “large blocks of instruction with inter-spread week-long breaks, all culminating with a long summer break” (2007). This structure is most familiar to Americans today, however the new alternative schedule presents a variance in the time allocated for breaks throughout the school year. “During a modified school year, instruction periods typically are broken up into 45-or-60-day sessions with each of these being divided by breaks lasting three to four weeks” (St Gerard, 2007). In the alternative calendar, schools would still break for a summer session, but in most cases the break would consist of about five weeks rather than eight. While the calendars might differ in session times, they would both meet the federally mandated 180 days of instruction. By extending the school year throughout the 365 calendar days, it is likely that student retention would improve since the students would not be away from the classroom for an extended summer period.
The question, however, is whether or not an alternative school calendar could help American students become more successful. United States President, Barack Obama, and Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, agree; “lengthening the school year would help the U.S. stay competitive with other countries” (“Moore School,” 2010). According to the National Association for Year-Round Education, “by using a modified schedule…which contains no break lasting longer than eight weeks – schools are able to keep their students in a learning mode around the entire year” (St Gerard, 2007). Many advocates for the alternative calendar claim that in order to be competitive in this high-tech age, what American students need most is more time in the classroom and less time on their own.
Some supporters of the extended school year make the claim that summer vacations actually create a loss of learning for America’s economically disadvantaged children. This academic loss is “especially severe for poorer kids who may not see as...